for my nonverbal Autistic son
The word recovery goes off like a bomb, exploding for weeks, months, years until there’s nothing left but ash. A wasteland. Suppurated skin and canned foods riddled with BPA. Arsenic in his hair samples, his gut.
Years later, I discover that the seeds of apples contain amygdalin, which can produce cyanide in the body. Small amounts of it can be detoxified, but I wonder how many seeds my son has ingested throughout my years of lazy slicing, the nights I was barely able to prep his lunch or wash my hair. Then there was the “brown rice arsenic study.” Then the water and the adjusted EPA standards that our city was unable to meet.
We absorb poison like pigeons, lapping up repurposed water on the greenbelt.
We were young and the city was bigger than we imagined, the specialists located on either end, flanking my classes. The waiting rooms teeming with stay-at-home mothers giving me more referrals than I could make sense of or afford.
Maybe the biggest mystery wasn’t why he didn’t speak, but why I was so persistent, why I stretched my annual salary of $20K into $150 bi-monthly out-of-network visits. I’d like to think I did it because I was devoted to him, but that’s a lie. I desperately wanted out, but all the exit signs were broken or unlit, hung above stairwells that led to nowhere.
One night, I locked myself in the bathroom for hours, rocking back and forth on the toilet, fantasizing about a long ride to Mexico, the two of us dipping our toes in the surf, letting the current take us further and further from the shore until neither of us could see anything but the sloshing waves and the blurred light of the sun. We couldn’t swim, and there would be no lifeguards on duty.
Tillie Olsen found motherhood to be in constant conflict with the writing life. She also believed that every woman who wrote was a survivor.
He never really spoke, though I repeatedly recounted his exodus from the verbal world to anyone who would listen. I vaguely remember making a list that contained the words mama, dada, key, book, and nene (bunny). The loss of books was another kind of detonation. The language scattering like shrapnel, the gibberish taking its place.
Years later, I celebrated the arrival of I did it and poo poo, let’s go and yum yum, scribbling each phrase onto post-it notes, noting the dates like anniversaries worth celebrating in the future. I wonder if this was a kind of selective hearing, the delusional act of transforming phonemes into meaning.
As I write this, I can hear the flip-flopping of his hand on a hardcover copy of Dr. Seuss. It dances like a dying fish across the pages. Soon, the pages will be shredded like confetti littering the floor of his room, a temporary distraction from the throw rug that hides the gaping hole in the carpeting, the dresser whose corners look like they’ve been chewed by a puppy, the ceiling fan whose blades are wilted like dying petals.
I’ve stopped wondering why any of this is appealing. I’ve stopped trying to stop it.
Here, on the other side of PTSD, in the space where I often laugh about his repetitive behaviors and the kind of “stimming” that makes him “sick,” I don’t have any fantasies. At the age of two, a diagnosis isn’t that difficult to accept. There were still so many paths to explore. I was eager to embark on the behavioral and cognitive experiments, the dietary and supplementary protocols. In my mind, this was the ultimate challenge—god or evolutionary biology had thrown down the gauntlet, and I was going to come out victorious.
Granted, I never considered how he felt about any of this, and I suppose it would’ve been pointless to ask.
Today, as I prepare the court papers for guardianship, I realize that I’m still not asking, but I think I know what he would say. He’d tell me that he’s scared of change. That despite my temper, he still trusts me more than anyone. He’d likely mention his affinity for cookies and French fries. He’d tell me that he lives for live music shows and late-night bike rides.
I’d tell him that I’d be lost without him. That there’s no one I’d rather spend my life with.
RD is the founding editor of TRR.